Judge Ben Saylor's television debut was an episode of Cops. The less said, the better.
Our reviews of The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet: Christmas With The Nelsons (published November 13th, 2008) and Christmas With Ozzie And Harriet (published January 5th, 2005) are also available.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, starring the entire Nelson family…
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was a television mainstay on ABC for an incredible 14 seasons and 435 episodes. Starring the Nelson family (father Ozzie, mother Harriet, and sons David and Ricky) as fictionalized versions of themselves, the show predated both reality programming and other shows dealing with trivial subjects (notably Seinfeld) by several decades. Each episode in The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet contains some mild, inoffensive situation that one or multiple members of the Nelson family get into that leads to mild, inoffensive comedy. While perhaps not to some modern viewers' tastes, there are still plenty out there who will likely enjoy the Nelsons' brand of humor.
Facts of the Case
For The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Shout! Factory has compiled 24 episodes representing nearly every season of the show. As the show progressed, the actors grew up, meaning their characters grew up along with them; Ricky goes from "irrepressible" youngster (as he is called during the early season title sequences) to bona fide pop star, and Dave would step behind the camera in later seasons as a director. In addition, both Dave and Ricky got married during the show's run, and their real-life wives became a part of the show.
The episodes on The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were broadcast between October 24, 1952 and March 26, 1966, and are distributed across the four disc set as follows. (* denotes episode commentary with David Nelson and Sam Nelson):
To be honest, I was half-dreading watching The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as it came in the mail two weeks ago. I had requested the set, true, but in the back of my mind a voice kept saying, "Have fun watching this corny, dated T.V. show." But when I cracked open the set and began watching the episodes I soon discovered, to my surprise, that while there are certainly parts of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet that are corny and dated, there is a lot of humor to be found as well.
Part of what makes The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet undeniably fascinating (at least to me) is that it was a sitcom about a family starring a real family. Decades before family-based reality programming such as The Osbournes and Hogan Knows Best, the Nelsons were bringing their own version of (scripted) reality to viewers each week. Even when sons Dave and Ricky each got married, writer-star-director-producer Ozzie had the wives (June Blair and Kris Harmon) come on the show as themselves. And while I have no idea how the four Nelsons got along when the cameras weren't rolling, on the show, there is, unsurprisingly, a breezy, natural credibility to the performances of the family. Ozzie and Harriet, in particular, have great comedic chemistry (no doubt honed prior to their TV debut by their radio broadcasts, one of which is included in this set), with Ozzie being the good-natured goof and Harriet the poised, sharp housewife always ready with a well-intended comic barb. Similarly, the boys benefit from their real-life connection as brothers, as their low-key rapport registers strongly from episode to episode, whether it's little Ricky wheedling Dave into fixing his bike in "The Fall Guy," or an older Dave worried about Ricky's latest girlfriend having feelings for Dave in "His Brother's Girl" (which, interestingly, features June as the titular girl, who is called Jane).
Of the four Nelsons, despite my admiration for Ricky's music, I found myself enjoying the episodes prominently featuring Ozzie the best, and two of my favorite episodes from this set revolve around him: "Captain Salty and the Submarine" and "Tutti Frutti Ice Cream." The first involves Ozzie ordering a toy submarine from a children's television program, which proves somewhat awkward for Oz when he wins a bicycle and has to appear on the show to claim it. The second is one of the most Seinfeldesque episodes on the set, detailing Ozzie's single-minded quest for the titular dessert he enjoyed as a youth. This episode has a hilarious dream sequence where Ozzie is transported back to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, where Dave and Ricky work behind the counter and Harriet, dressed as a flapper, sings a song and dances the Charleston. The episode is so darn effective at displaying the obsession of the characters (not just Ozzie) for getting tutti frutti ice cream that I caught myself checking the ice cream section of the local supermarket the other day to see if it had some.
But Ozzie did share the comedic wealth, as this set demonstrates (although, if this set is any indication, he didn't tend to give Harriet the main storyline too often). On "Ricky, the Drummer," Ricky gets to play the drums (surprise!) for a swing band during a concert, and also performs the Fats Domino number "I'm Walkin'" (which was Ricky's first single). No dummy, Ozzie appears to have worked hard to get Ricky's numbers into episodes of the show, and there are several episodes on this set containing musical performances, including the song "Cindy," which Ricky sang with Dean Martin and Walter Brennan in the classic Western Rio Bravo. With this set, the viewer can trace the evolution of Ricky not only as an actor but a performer as well, moving from the immobile singer of "I'm Walkin'" to the somewhat more dynamic musician performing "Just a Little Bit Sweet." But even when Ricky isn't singing on the show, he's still entertaining. In "Rick and Kris Go to the Mountains," Ricky gets himself into a jam that one can imagine Ozzie getting into at Ricky's age when he misleads Kris into believing he's taking her on a weekend getaway, when he's really going out with his frat buddies to play cards. And on "Ricky's Riding Lesson," he feigns inexperience at horseback riding to gain the attentions of a comely instructor.
Similarly, Dave gets the spotlight at times as well. In "David, the Law Clerk," the combined efforts of the family nearly cost Dave a job working for a lawyer in town. And on one of the set's sweetest episodes, "The Newlyweds Get Settled," the story shifts from being about Ozzie and Harriet fixing up Dave and June's apartment as a surprise to Dave and June trying to enjoy their first night together in their new home. Nothing goes right for poor June, who can't cook a proper dinner for them to eat, so they end up enjoying a romantic, candlelit meal of peas and ginger ale.
Obviously, not everyone watching this show today will find it funny. Despite the family playing themselves, the show isn't exactly realistic (the fact that Ozzie isn't given a job and thus is always hanging around the house is a prime example), but overall, I was surprised by how well some of the episodes hold up. I particularly found "A Ball of Tinfoil" clever and relevant. In it, Ozzie attempts to get rid of some household junk but, through a series of convoluted junk swapping with his neighbors, ends up with everything he tried to throw out piled back in his garage. Other episodes work for their farcical elements, like "The Prowler," a Dave and Ricky-less episode where a little white lie by Ozzie and Harriet leads to an enormous amount of comedic complications for the couple. And the afore-mentioned "Tutti Frutti Ice Cream" is a great piece of flat-out absurd comedy.
Part of what makes The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet interesting is that the viewer sees the progression of the characters happen quickly, and it's a testament to Ozzie and his writers' talents that the show is able to make a smooth transition as the cast gets older. In addition, the writers also created good episodes (again, if this set is any indication) even when all of the characters were not present.
Shout! Factory's set of The Best of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is generally solid in the video and audio departments. The image quality isn't always what it necessarily could be, but it's not too shabby either. Audio seems to be on par with a show of its time. In terms of extras, Shout! Factory has included a variety of special features. First off, there is commentary on four episodes with Dave, who is joined by Ricky's youngest son, Sam Nelson. Dave and Sam have a nice rapport, and it's great to hear Dave reminisce about a show for which he clearly still has warm memories. There is one commentary on each disc of the set. On Disc One, there is also a short documentary called "The Story of Ozzie and Harriet" that provides interesting information on Ozzie and Harriet's early life but inexplicably ends upon mentioning the launching of the T.V. show. In addition, an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet radio program is included as an audio-only extra. On Disc Two, the sole extra is a 1937 short silent film called "Doing Right by David," featuring Ozzie and baby Dave. On Disc Three, there is a short promotional clip from Ozzie for the episode "The Circus" (included on the same disc), where Dave and Ricky perform their own trapeze stunts. Also included is a short home movie of Dave and Ricky doing trapeze tricks, with commentary by Dave. On Disc Four, the only extra is a pair of 10-question trivia quizzes, one about Ozzie and Harriet and one about Ricky and Dave. If you get all the questions right, you unlock a short video bonus (one for each quiz). The bonus videos aren't all that exciting, but the quizzes are worth taking because every time you get a question right, there's a text-only bit of trivia included (like why Ozzie decided not to give his character a profession on the show). In addition, all four discs provide direct access to Ricky's musical numbers. All in all, this is a good, if not great, collection of extras. The documentary featurette, however, is rather disappointing for its utter lack of comprehensiveness.
Note: This set has been available for over a year, so this has already been discussed in other reviews, but these episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet have been edited down from their original broadcast versions. The episodes included here generally run about 21-22 minutes. I don't know how long they are supposed to be, but as I can't really say I'm an Ozzie and Harriet purist, I can't really complain.
For fans of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, the make-or-break decision as to whether to buy this set will be whether you mind that the episodes are not presented in their original broadcast form. If you can get past that, you'll find a largely enjoyable collection of classic television.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode commentaries with David Nelson and Sam Nelson
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